By Joshua Partlow and David Nakamura
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 21, 2010; A07
KABUL -- After a series of meetings this week with Sen. John F. Kerry, President Hamid Karzai said Friday that he would support the independent work of two anti-corruption law enforcement units that had come under political pressure from his office after the arrest of one of his aides last month.
Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made an unscheduled return visit to Kabul on Thursday to continue discussions he began with Karzai earlier in the week. He had traveled to Afghanistan in part to discuss U.S. concerns over Karzai's decision to exert control over the work of the Major Crimes Task Force and the Special Investigative Unit, two U.S.-backed Afghan law enforcement teams that arrested a senior security adviser, Mohammad Zia Salehi, on allegations of corruption.
"President Karzai reiterated that it was a key national security interest of Afghanistan to address corruption and its underlying causes comprehensively and across the board," Kerry said in a statement.
"The president and I agreed that the work of these entities must be allowed to continue free from outside interference or political influence, including with respect to ongoing cases," he added.
Kerry and Karzai made an appearance together after their meeting Friday. Karzai's office issued a separate statement saying the two agreed on the need to reduce civilian casualties, disband private security firms and accelerate Afghanistan's assumption of control over its affairs. Karzai's statement added that the anti-corruption teams should be free of "foreign interference or political influence."
Afghan officials familiar with Salehi's case said Karzai personally intervened to release him from jail the day he was arrested. The president's criticism of the anti-corruption teams has hampered investigators' ability to pursue cases against Karzai's allies, the officials said. Karzai has accused the teams of violating human rights and operating without regard to the constitution.
Salehi, who works with Afghanistan's national security council, was arrested on allegations of soliciting a bribe to help shut down an investigation into a politically connected money transfer business. He was also under investigation for allegedly doling out cash and vehicles from a palace fund, the officials said.
Kerry said both sides "recognized the necessity of ensuring that these organizations respect human rights and the Afghan constitution," as well as the need to establish a new legal framework for their work.
Some Afghans were skeptical of Karzai's renewed commitment to fighting corruption.
"These statements are a bit too late for the situation we are in. In Afghanistan, we are suffering from larger problems," said Mohammad Daud Sultanzoy, a member of parliament representing Ghazni province. "These statements are good when a problem is beginning, but when we are nose-deep in problems, we need action. The government of Afghanistan needs to fix problems yesterday; we cannot afford seminars."
Fawzia Koofi, another lawmaker, said: "When it comes to President Karzai's commitment to corruption and rule of law, I'm not very hopeful. There's very little sense of accountability. There's no checks and balances. . . . Their efforts against corruption don't prevent corruption. It is just words to make it look like they are doing something."